The only acceptable racism left: Islamophobia

Herman Cain: Known for his Islamophobic comments

"So what do you do for a living?" the activist asked me. He was an American Christian, an ordained minister and leader of an interfaith peace organization. I was attending a conference organized by his group."

"I produce Islamic videos and programs, particularly for children," I replied.

"Oh. Doesn't Hamas produce programs for children, too?" he asked.

I was stunned. This exchange occurred shortly before the Hamas victory in the recent Palestinian elections. What floored me though was that this man associated what I do for a living with a group considered terrorist by the American government. It is clear that the ugly tentacles of Islamophobia have penetrated places where Muslims have normally felt safe from it. An interfaith gathering is the last venue I'd expect these comments.

I was representing the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago as it's chair, and he knew that pretty well. It's a federation of more than 55 mosques and Islamic organizations serving 400,000 Muslims from the region.

The Danish cartoon affair - Europe's latent Islamophobia comes to life

The latest example of Islamophobia comes from Denmark and Europe, not the United States. By now, we've all seen and read about the protests against 12 deeply offensive cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him.

What is critical to know is that it was not some random cartoonist drawing one cartoon and an editor who decided to publish it. Rather, a neo-con newspaper chose to commission artists to draw these images that depict the Prophet as a terrorist. These cartoons were not an ignorant mistake. The intent was to insult and inflame. The concept of respect and honor among Muslims is well-known. So is the potential risk of incitement, especially after knowing what happened when the Muslim world came to know about some American soldiers disrespecting the Quran last year.

The Danish embassy in Lebanon has been torched, the country's flags burned, death threats have been issued and some protesters have been killed as a result of police firings.

But well before these dramatic images that must have made editors salivate for their sensational qualities made the news, Muslims in the Muslim world and abroad launched peaceful, lawful protests for four months against the cartoons that would have made Martin Luther King Jr. proud.

Danish Muslims wrote letters of protest. They were ignored. Eleven Muslim ambassadors in Denmark asked to meet with Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. He refused to do so. A grassroots boycott of Danish products was launched in the Middle East. That got some attention, but not much until Danish businesses realized how much of their $1 billion business in the region was at stake.

The cartoons were printed in September 2005. In September, October, November, December and almost all of January, the Muslim opposition to the cartoons was characterized by peaceful demonstrations of love for the Prophet and restrained protests of how he was being denigrated.

Arrogant Response to Peaceful Protests

When newspapers in Norway, Germany and France, in their Islamophobic frenzy, decided to republish the cartoons in the name of "freedom of expression," the scale of anger and protest widened. What started off as peaceful opposition spiraled out of control.

Now, the situation was out of the hands of Muslims who had made serious attempts to resolve the issue peacefully. They had tried their utmost, but to no avail. From this point onwards, all kinds of people, including those with little knowledge of Islamic rules that forbid harm to foreign emissaries in Muslim lands, had upped the ante. The torching of embassies is wrong. So is stepping on and burning the symbols of Danish pride, their flag. It is Haram and a sin in Islam.

Unfortunately, some Iranian newspapers have commissioned the drawing of anti-Semitic cartoons in protest. This is a disgusting form of retaliation that deserves absolute condemnation. It will neither help fight Islamophobia, nor elicit any understanding about why Muslims are upset about the Danish cartoons. The conflic has hit a new low with this move.

But the world media, always in search of dramatic images of death and destruction, lapped up the anger and violence with glee. There was little coverage of the peaceful response of the Muslim community to these cartoons in the initial days after their publication. There were no calls for death, there was no fire involved or images of screaming bearded and Hijabed Muslims. Just peaceful bearded and Hijabed Muslims. Yawn. The media was bored.

When it comes to Muslims, everything goes

Would the media outlet which commissioned and printed these cartoons, as well as those which reprinted them, call for artists to develop grotesque anti-Semitic caricatures to prove that they have the freedom to do so? Of course not. The French even have laws to punish anti-Semitic "speech" and "writings."

The current cartoon affair is not about freedom of expression, it's about Islamophobia.

Islamophobia is real

Islamophobia, or the fear and hatred of all things relating to Islam and Muslims, has become an acceptable form of racism. A sympathetic Jewish lawyer who was representing a Palestinian client in Chicago pre-9/11 said something telling to me in this regard: "Muslims are the new N?ers of America. If you will not fight for yourself, no one will."

He's right. But Muslim complaints about Islamophobia continue to be dismissed.

More than one fourth of all American Muslims surveyed by more than one public opinion organization stated that they have personally experienced Islamophobia or know someone who has. Over 200,000 American Muslims have been subjected to some kind of law enforcement activity since 9/11. At least 15,000 Muslims have been detained or arrested since that tragedy. Over 16,000 were either deported or are in the process of deportation. The Council on American-Islamic Relations annually issues reports about the state of Muslim civil rights in the United States. Harrowing tales of anti-Muslim discrimination on the job, at schools, stores, restaurants and on the streets fill these publications. The case of Capt. James Yee is a disturbing example of how American Muslims even in positions of authority and respect must endure Islamophobia publicly at the hands of our own government.

It is due to Islamophobia fanned by government policies and a media frenzy that a majority of Americans continue to hold negative opinions of Islam and Muslims. And a few thousand bin Laden terrorists contribute to authenticate this negative image. Forty-four percent of Americans queried in a Cornell national poll favor curtailing some liberties for Muslim Americans.

Over half of schoolchildren in the Australian city of Victoria view Muslims as terrorists, and two out of five agree that Muslims "are unclean", a survey has revealed.

Islamophobia is older than 9/11 and is based on ongoing ignorance

The fear and hatred of all things Islamic can be traced much farther back than 9/11. Edward Said's landmark book "Orientalism" outlined how European colonial masters viewed their Muslim subjects with disdain and disgust. This attitude continues to characterize the discipline today. That view of Muslims as bloodthirsty, misogynist and violent savages persists. It is furthered by Bernard Lewis, America's top Orientalist, and his neoconservative students, a number of whom are the architects of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In the 1980s, funding was cut throughout the United States for programs that attempted to understand other peoples and nations. With the fall of the former Soviet Union in 1991 and the establishment of America as the world's sole superpower, a fair amount of arrogance towards the rest of the world pervaded America's dealings with other countries and continues to do so.

The barring of Yusuf Islam in 2004 and Tariq Ramadan in 2005 from the United States are examples of how we are not only closing our borders to Islam but opening them to Islamophobia. Even worse, we are closing our minds. As Diana Eck, President of the American Academy of Religion wrote in the Boston Globe on February 2, 2006 about the Ramadan case, "Denying us face-to-face access to scholars and theologians who contribute to critical reflection on the religious currents of our world is an intolerable impoverishment of the academic enterprise." The Academy is currently suing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff for barring Ramadan entry into the US.

Islamophobia harms all of us

In my four interfaith interactions in the last two months, I have met a whole lot of very nice people. But I was surprised to find at almost each event I attended, one or two Islamophobic people who seemed to have a high dose of Fox News in their system. I listened to them and prayed for them instead of responding to them.

Like racism and anti-Semitism, Islamophobia hurts all of us. In America, it is eroding our civil liberties. In Europe, it is further isolating minority communities and inflaming latent xenophobia. It is perpetuating the neocon wish for a "clash of civilizations" at a time when no country in the world, Muslim or not, can afford it politically, economically or otherwise. Just ask the Danish dairy industry how Islamophobia has hurt its business.

Islamophobia is responsible for torture. Islamophobia is responsible for the grave misunderstandings that only serve to perpetuate hatred and demonization.

Perhaps we need to learn from Canada, where hate speech is banned despite the guarantee of free speech in the country's constitution.

Islamophobia is today's accepted form of racism. It will require Muslims to fight hard against it. Muslims are neither solely responsible for its creation, nor will they be able to fight it on their own. It is a collective responsibility for all bridge-builders of the world.

Let us today take a stand to end all kinds of fear and hatred of "the other."

Photo Attribution: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Herman_Cain_at_Hannity_-_Boortz_event-1.jpg

Comments

Freedom of religion was a cornerstone in which this country was built upon.I have my own religious beliefs and I judge no one else because of theirs. This was a wonderful article and has really opened my eyes about the racism that goes on right here in this so called free country. I hope that you will continue to inform us of these goings on so that more peoples eyes will be opened to the hate and intolerance that's spread throughout the world.

Location

USA

The non-Muslim world does not have a racist attitude toward Islam. It has a very negative attitude towards the radical, extremist fringe of Islam that is being used to capture the minds of some to use them for their own ends, which do sound somewhat racist. I saw a Taliban in a documentary (made before 9/11) denouncing the US and then going on to say they were going to try to take over Pakistan next, to get rid of the 'low' Muslims there.I also disagree that the cartoons were intended to insult the prophet. The ones I saw were intended to satirize the gross misuse of Islam and the prophet by the lunatic fringe that sets off suicide bombs using Islam as a cover as well as a tool to manipulate the behavior of the gullible.

Location

San Francisco, CA

Thank you for this clearly written, and even more important, wisely written article. As a firm supporter of freedom of speech I was at first appalled at the Muslim reaction to the Danish cartoons. However once I shifted my perspective a little I realized that, while violence is never an acceptable reaction, if the cartoons were insulting of Jesus or Judaism the firestorm would have been even larger. I think your article is required reading for anyone who wants to bridge the gulfs of ignorance that are all to common in the modern world.

Location

Shawnee, KS, USA

Very informative !!! Thank you for the info. Through the LORDS grace I was introduced to the prophet Muhammad lastnight and I will do my best to stop the misleading, unjust, and down right ignorant views that many americans have of muslims.

Location

v.a. ( united stated states)

A very informative artical .I went on line looking for information on Islam, because I was alarmed to realize I had made a lot of harsh judgments, with little personal experience. I think I know more now and will continue to look further into Islam,so I can understand it better

Location

USA

Alhamdulillahirabbil'alaminKeep up the good work and please continue to inform the world of islamophabia in the US, Europe and anywhere else in the world. Thank you

Location

Saudi Arabia

You have researched deeply on the subject matter and have come up with vivid living examples of Islamophobia in USA. What the average Muslim desires is to live at peace with his neighbours - whether they are believers or otherwise. But what do we find from the other side? The Muslim is categorized as a special candidate for "Hell", that all the moral and spiritual exhortations of the Holy Qur'an, while indisputable, is meaningless to even the leadership of the Christain faith - for whatever reasons.So, to use the words of a famous American reggae star, there are more questions than answers. In the face of all these inherent hatred, distrust, etc. how d0 we live amicably, what else should we do, and how much tolerance should we continue to give? May Allah continue to protect his Ummah in the face of these tribulations. Amin. Ma Salaam.

Location

LAGOS, NIGERIA

Alhamdulilahhi, our Scholar Abdul Malik has done it again. I like the quick response to this Global Threat to World Peace. They seem to forget that the adherent of the Islamic faith will not allow any blemish to dent the Islamic faith. May Almighty God continue to be with all Muslims in the face of persecution and punish all individuals who are planning the collapse of the Islamic faith(Amin). Jazakhum llahu Khaeran

Location

Nigeria

This article addressed the Muslim frustrations, their patience, tolerance, responsibile reactions and finally their blown up anger quite well. Instead of jumping into conclusions, as is the case by others, that Muslims are, by nature, violent; it addresses the causes and effects quite objectively. However, it would be helpful if the article offered some constructive solution instead of one sentence at the end stating, 'Let us today take a stand to end all kinds of fear and hatred of "the other."'How, and what is your proposal?Thank you.

Location

Excellent articel by Abdul Malki Mujahid. I only wish that most Christians demand an apology from the right wing, zenophobic, Islamophobic Danish newspaper to issue an aoplogy for their insensitivity to one of our Abrahamaic faiths. Freedom of expression does not give us the right to denigrate other people cultures & faiths. Lets use this opportunity to open up a dialogue between our two cultures & learn to appreciate & cherish our common roots. Christianity & Islam both derive from the same spring source; our common prophet Abraham/Ibrahim. Lets all say NO to Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, fear mongering, hate speech, racial profiling.SALAM ALEIKUM.GASTON

Location

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